Crawley Labour council leader Peter Lamb: Crisis won’t be solved by cutting safety net

Last week I took part in a demonstration outside the Town Hall with members of the Independent Tenants’ Association. The demo was to raise awareness of the bedroom tax’s impact, following in the wake of Stephanie Bottrill’s suicide.

It would be wrong to focus too much on a single case, but it is at times like these that we see the human face of a debate, all too often, made up of cold figures and statistics. If you choose to cut away the safety nets in our society at a time when jobs and affordable housing are in short supply, then tragedies will happen.

Even before the recession really made its mark, the ratio of people on the housing list looking for a one-bedroom property compared to those who got one was eleven and a half to one. The smaller properties are those most in demand. The bedroom tax is asking those on the lowest incomes, many of whom are in work, to either find money they do not have or downsize to properties which do not exist. The Government is fundamentally out of touch with reality.

The bedroom tax only came into effect last month, so we have yet to see the real impact of the changes. Yet, since the introduction of the tax there has already been a 338 per cent increase in applications for emergency help with rent.

Meanwhile, the financial case for the changes doesn’t even stack up. The cost of evicting tenants and meeting ongoing housing obligations is huge, particularly given the relatively small amounts of rent arrears necessary to trigger eviction. Furthermore, if people are forced onto housing benefit in the private sector then the taxpayer picks up an even bigger bill.

The crisis currently affecting housing and welfare won’t be solved by cutting away the safety nets, it will only be resolved by a serious programme of getting houses built and ensuring there is a job for every working-age adult. On both counts the recent budget has failed utterly.

As society changes the welfare system has to keep up and the Labour Party are currently putting together proposals to ensure a fairer system, but these Tory changes don’t add up either financially or morally.